What is Phlegiscope?
UPDATE – We’ve been Scooped! Yippee!! (Friday, 2nd of October 2015): This morning, I got a message from James E. that gave me an exciting jolt. In this post on newschallenge.org, Gang Badoy of RockEd Philippines describes their Polimetrics project, launched in July 2015 that does legislation tracking in a better-focused manner, with an agile team that includes a data science expert and statistician, and advisers with links to publishers and academe. While they’re using a different set of technologies and with broader goals, the “technology stack” they and I are using differ sufficiently that it makes sense to continue working on Legiscope. For more on the Polimetrics project, see the Knight News Challenge article, here
This project intends to provide Filipino citizens a set of tools for keeping track of legislative “work in progress”, by automating the reporting of new content seen on Senate and Congress web sites. It’s work in progress that’s available to browse on GitHub.
PHlegiscope enables Web users to build a crowdsourced, citizen-curated database of laws, and for them (and others) to see changes in the content of draft bills over time. PHlegiscope allows these users to attach tags to these texts that are of significance to them, as well as links to news items on the Web which relate to the draft law. This information is aggregated by a WordPress blog server of their choice – say, one that is run by a class, a media outfit, a campaign organization, or a research group.
How it works
Whenever a Phlegiscope user browses the Senate and Congress websites at
- http://senate.gov.ph, and
a browser extension detects this, and enables the user to:
- Fetch a document, say, a PDF, posted on a page there, and forward it to a WordPress site;
- Automatically record the title, scope (national/local), and status of a piece of pending legislation at a given date,
- Attach links to Internet-published news items that are related to the law,
- Attach tags to the item of legislation, and
- Notify the user whether or not this piece of legislation is being watched by other users of Phlegiscope.
These pieces of information are collected by volunteers over a period of time, and are forwarded to a WordPress blog of their choice, which in turn aggregates this information. The WordPress blog (running the Phlegiscope plugin) is able to display a “catalog” of draft bills being watched by volunteers who submit information to it. This catalog contains tags, links, and, most importantly, time stamps that indicate when the item was seen, as well as other time-related information. This can include
- differences between two draft versions published at different times
- schedules of hearings
- dates of effectivity
- the date when an issue related to the draft law was first recorded
- heads of committees that are currently overseeing preparation of the draft law
It also allows WordPress articles to be attached to particular Phlegiscope catalog entries, and for an RSS feed to be generated from the Phlegiscope database (or parts of it).
The Phlegiscope code is work in progress, and
will be published as soon as the bare-bones components are published to has been published on Github, so that others can also begin to hack at the code and beat it into working shape.
Why am I doing this?
The recently enacted Philippine Cybercrime Act of 2012 brought home for me the danger of being ignorant of how laws are made. That, and the frustration that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has basically broken a promise to lead the effort to legislate freedom of information rights means, to me, that citizens are not going to be given transparency, in aid of further reducing corruption. No surprises there; but I’m personally tired of being lied to in so many ways, over the decades. This government we have now is apparently not going to give us the satisfaction, having coined it’s own neologism for unrepentant intellectual dishonesty after an infamous, currently serving Senator: “Sottonism”.
We’re going to have to take the work of gaining greater transparency in government into our own hands.
These two talks show ways that we programmer types can be engaged in building things better 🙂
- Jennifer Pahlka: Coding a better government
- Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government